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Review: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Having kicked off Hot Docs this past year, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz is getting its much deserved wide release. While it wasn’t the best film at the annual international documentary film fest, and was smartly top-billed. Both intimate and global in scope, comprehensive in its analysis and dissection, and with issues that are ever important to the world today, it’s not only a compelling story, but a timely and important one.

Aaron Swartz, prodigy, campaigner for a free Internet, political activist, hacker, sleuth, and by all accounts genuine and idealistic, committed suicide on January 11, 2013 amid stress and pressure from an ongoing and by all accounts unnecessary FBI investigation.

Recounting Aaron’s childhood, in which he was coding programs at a staggering young age and consulting with companies as a teenager, to his rise as Internet hero and rigorous campaigner for freedom of information, Brian Knappenberger jam-packs a potent story at break-neck speed.

Balancing the more personal struggles of Aaron with the political, social, and technological aspects of his work is tricky, but for the most part well-executed. Swartz makes a feel appearance on camera, but only one is a straight interview, and that footage was not meant directly for this documentary. It’s those around him though that offers the most interesting insights and perspectives, especially those who aided and fought for him in political and litigious rings.

Neither the governmental law nor the technical jargon feel arcane, and the more absurd moments of Swartz’s prosecution would be hysterical if it weren’t first completely heartbreaking. Swartz campaigned vigorously for net neutrality, and issue that continues to be a most pressing matter today; he did it both through lawful means as well as more through more clandestine (though practical) avenues.

It does however at times yank at the heartstrings when a simple tug will do; we see video of Aaron as a child at both the beginning and the end. The tragedy is well enough felt and so recent and lingering that the camera holds too long on those still mourning.

Still, it’s a powerful, coherent, and relevant story that needs to be watched. And there are sure to be lots of discussions.

[star v=45]

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.